Banff Mountain Film Festival: Part One

Bijou Theatre, S Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2024
Bijou Theatre, S Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2024

(Today’s articles are written by intern Alexa-Marie Melendez. A second installment reviewing the recent Banff Film Festiva will follow this afternoon.)

Never underestimate the power of dreams  and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: thepower for greatness lives within each of us.

                                  Wilma Rudolph 

Storytelling is powerful, wound up and spun into an eloquent thread of words — it carries such gravity. A gravity that brings center to our lives, in spheres of culture, history, and hope. Storytelling provides accountability, reflection, and most importantly inspiration, something once shared face-to-face, transcended through time to incorporate different artistic expressions and adaptations. Storytellers are no longer bound by printed word or oral presentations, mediums such as visual arts now allow them to reach their audiences. 

The Bijou Theatre gives storytellers a space to share stories, connecting with not just the audience, but the community of Knoxville. Last week, the Bijou presented its annual showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, a three-day event showcasing filmmakers from all over the world, as they shared the tales of different outdoor adventures and sports.

The Bijou, however, takes things a step further. While showing films from Banff Centre (the largest art organization in western Canada) they partner with local outdoors-related nonprofits, partnering with a different nonprofit each night of the festival, and donating a portion of ticket sales to each. In attendance the first evening was Legacy Parks Foundation, an East Tennessee organization that establishes “recreational opportunities, natural beauty, and open spaces for the community.” Legacy Parks has invested around $11 million in public parks, adding six thousand acres of parkland, and establishing six public access points to waterways. 

SoKno Art Trail design, Legacy Parks Foundation

 The foundation continues to work on new projects, such as the SoKno Art Trail in South Knoxville. The future 1.5-mile trail plans to stretch from Chapman Highway to the Island Home neighborhood, running alongside the Knoxville & Holston River Railroad rail line. Two trailheads are planned at both ends of the SoKno Art Trail, with the trail exhibiting a collective art scene of landscape architecture, urban design, and ecology. The project is another key connection in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, initiated by Legacy Parks in 2008.

Unfortunately, by the time I came out of the auditorium doors, I found Legacy Parks gone. I tried not to beat myself up about it — I can blame the films — Breathtaking mountainous sceneries, crisp recordings of natural sound, and awe inspiring testimonies of the lives presented on screen. The show consisted of eight films of various durations from Banff’s Arnica Program.

Klaas Willems, Still Alive, Photo by Santino Martirano
Klaas Willems, Still Alive, Photo by Santino Martirano

 I felt the pressure of time with Klaas Willems in “Still Alive”, by Samtino Martirano. Klaas is a young man from Belgium born with Cystic Fibrosis at just four years old, doctors told Klaas and his parents, he might not live past twenty-five. Now thirty-five, Klaas is a rock climber mapping out hundreds of routes in Sardinia, Italy. Despite his fibrosis and later being diagnosed with cancer, he continues to live each day to the best of his ability. 

Riki and Talon outside their home, Photo by Blake Jorgenson
The Pascal brothers on their way up Ts’zil, Photo by Blake Jorgenson

The audience laughed with the Pascal brothers of the Líl̓wat Nation, and listened to their experiences in “Slides on the Mountain”, by Seth Gillis and Sandy Ward (2023). We joined Riki and Talon as they trained with Morgan Fluery and Sandy Ward through the winter, preparing for the mountain that towered above them.  We felt their anxiety as they stood over the chute of Ts’zil Mountain (also known as Mt. Currie). However, the tale of the Pascal brothers entails more, as skiing down Ts’zil symbolized a reconnection to their proud history as the Líl̓wat People and an appreciation of the lands their ancestors roamed.

Nameless Tower of the Tango Towers in Pakistan, Photo by Nicolas Bossard
French BASE jumpers Antoine Pecher (left) and Eric Jamet (right), Photo by Nicolas Bossard

Winner of Best Film: Mountain Sports’, “Eternal Flame” by Nicolas Bossard, is a story of friendship and adventure. The audience gasped as French BASE jumpers Eric Jamet and Antoine Pecher jumped from one of the highest cliffs in the world. Their adventure overflows with daring feats and heart-stopping moments. The film outlines the development of BASE jumping, paying homage to Glenn SIngleman and Nick Feteris, two Australians who first BASE jumped from the Trango Towers on August 12, 1992

Each story commits to the impossible; not only overcoming the challenge but also winning the inner struggle. I love how with each film shown, the audience’s cheers grew louder, soaking up all of the emotion on screen, empathizing with each individual’s struggle, and celebrating in their triumph.

Moralejo (left) and Bergemier (right), Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, March 2024

 I had the opportunity to speak with Executive Director Courtney Bergemier and Event Manager Carolina Moralejo, for the Bijou Theatre. They explained that the Banff Centre curates the festival, and the films are then sent to partners like The Bijiou for showing. The event started about a decade ago and continues to increase in popularity in Knoxville. Previously a one-day event at the Bijou, it grew to three days, presenting eight different films each night. “The Banff Centre holds an annual festival in Canada every fall, and international filmmakers can submit films. I feel like the amount of submissions they’ve received over the years has increased and the quality of films has increased,” Bergemier explained. 

The theatre partnered with local outdoor outfitter Mast General Store, and the store’s staff joins in on the fun. Along with the pairing with non-profit partners, the goal is to provide attendees with networking and resources needed to both improve our city as well as becoming more active.

“We wanted to look for strategic ways to collaborate and take the inspiration that people experience while watching the films, and connect them with people who can help them take the inspiration and make it more realized, in a local way with all the natural resources we have in town,”  Bergemier shared. 

Bergemier and Moralejo hope that the film festival inspires people to push their limits, get outside, respect the earth, respect each other, and go on adventures In case you missed the Monday night Arnica Program films and would like to track them down, I’ve listed them below. Tuesday and Wednesday nights consisted of different film programs under Banff. More information can be found here under 2023/24 World Tour Films. I’ll cover the next two nights in a second installment this afternoon.


  • How Did We Get Here? (Tour Edit) 

Filmmakers: Clay Mitchell, Simon Shave, CK9 Studios

  • Still Alive 

Filmmaker: Santino Martirano

  • Sea to Sky Trail Series: Progression 

Filmmakers: Joel Fuller, Michael Overbeck

  • Slides on the Mountain 

Filmmakers Seth Gillis, Aline Mayerhoffer, Sandy Ward 

  • Leaving A Tread 

Filmmaker: Maxwell Frank, Becky Gardner, WTB

  • Eternal Flame (Best Film: Mountain Sports) 

Filmmakers: Nicolas Bossard, MS PROD 

  • After You’ve Gone 

Filmmakers: Max Erickson, Jared Zissu, Flylords, Fiska Media 

  • Pioneers: Tandem XC Skiing (Tour Edit)

Filmmakers: Chris Parr, Flutter Brothers Productions